Dead Island 2 review: One Hell-A of a good time

Deep Silver's long-awaited sequel is finally here, and it was completely worth the nine-year wait.

Dead Island 2
(Image: © Deep Silver)

Windows Central Verdict

Dead Island 2 is everything a Dead Island fan could ask for. Between its addicting combat mechanics, excellent character and gear progression systems, hilariously satirical writing, and goretastic presentation, this long-awaited sequel has proven it was worth the wait.


  • +

    Visceral melee combat is awesome

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    Improved character progression

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    A rich and creative weapon sandbox

  • +

    Lots of zombie variety

  • +

    Comical B movie-style story and dialogue

  • +

    Excellent graphics and audio


  • -

    Random zombie spawns are a bit weird

  • -

    Puzzle objectives could use more variety

  • -

    A few performance issues

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It's hard to believe, but Dead Island 2 is actually launching on April 21. After changing hands between four separate studios over the course of nine years, the full sequel to the chaotic and melee-focused 2011 zombie game is finally here. And as someone that vividly remembers watching the first Dead Island 2 trailer in 2014 while between school classes, the fact this game is hitting shelves in 2023 blows my mind.

But is the game actually good? It's a question that many are asking, as nearly a decade of development hell doesn't exactly inspire confidence. After playing through its campaign over the last two weeks, though, I'm excited to report that Dead Island 2 isn't just good — it's absolutely fantastic, and everything a fan of the franchise could ask for. It delivers the gory and visceral melee combat that Dead Island players crave, while also introducing several innovative additions that elevate the sequel above its predecessors. This, alongside a satirical B movie-tier script and some top-tier presentation, makes Dead Island 2 a must-play for anyone looking for a lighthearted and action-packed romp through the zombie apocalypse.

Disclaimer: This review was made possible by a Windows PC review code that was provided by Deep Silver. The company did not see the contents of the review before publication.

Dead Island 2 review: Gameplay and combat systems

A flaming claymore sword. Because why not? (Image credit: Windows Central)

Like it was in the original Dead Island games, the star of the show in Dead Island 2 is the brutal stamina-based melee action. Guns and ammo are in short supply, and that means the only way you're getting through the armies of the undead is by hacking, slashing, and thwacking them to pieces. Fortunately, with its nuanced combat mechanics, deep weapon sandbox, and a diverse array of skills and character tweaks to choose from, Dead Island 2 makes this an absolute blast to do.

At the core of the combat is what developer Dambuster Studios calls the "Fully Locational Evisceration System for Humanoids," system, or F.L.E.S.H. It's essentially a more violent version of the dismemberment mechanic that the series is known for, and it allows you to reduce zombies to a bloody pulp by crushing body parts and chopping limbs off. Need to slow down an incoming swarm? Fracture their legs to stagger them, or fully break or slice them off to force them into a pathetic crawl. Want to take away a monster's ability to reach and swipe at you? Go ahead and "disarm" them with a couple swings of something sharp. Dead Island's classic skull stomp also returns, rewarding players that knock zombies to the ground with a savage instant kill.

Thanks to Dead Island 2's amazing animations, gore spatters, and sound effects, the brawling feels great with even the simplest weapons. But as you progress, you'll start getting access to more powerful and exotic zombie-slaying equipment, and this is where the game truly hits its stride. You can find everything from crowbars and pipe wrenches to massive claymore swords and sledgehammers in the game's semi-open world, with each weapon sporting individual pros and cons. These weapons can then be tricked out at workbenches using scrap and mods you collect in the environment to make them more durable, improve their stagger potential, add elemental status effect buildup to their damage, and more. Before you know it, you'll have a huge and diverse arsenal at your disposal.

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Dead Island 2
DeveloperDeep Silver Dambuster Studios
PublisherDeep Silver
Install size70 GB
PlayersSingle-player, multiplayer co-op (up to three players)
Playtime17-20 hours per playthrough
Retail price$69.99 (Xbox, PlayStation), $59.99 (PC)
PlatformsXbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Windows PC (Epic Games Store)
Xbox/PC Game PassNo
Reviewed onWindows PC

On top of nailing the core systems you'd expect from Dead Island, Dambuster has also spiced things up with some awesome new features, mechanics, and a new approach to character progression. For example, Dead Island 2 places a significant emphasis on taking advantage of your environment, with most levels featuring plenty of props and hazards you can creatively use to either kill zombies directly or "prime" them for specific elemental damage types.

Not only did these zombie variants keep me on my toes, but they also inspired me to figure out how I could take advantage of their quirks with quick thinking.

How about the zombies themselves? Like other games in the genre, the undead hordes are made up of common infected and "Apex" special zombies with distinctive capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Something that Dead Island 2 does that most games don't, though, is add lots of variety to the crowds of basic riffraff. Elemental variants of the standard Walker and Runner zombies are immune to the damage types that match them and can trigger environmental hazards, while riot gear-clad ones have armor that you have to break off. There are also spiky ones covered in sharp glass that deal chip damage by running into you, infected soldiers wearing grenade-covered vests, and some poor dead souls even have beehives embedded in their abdomen. Not only did these zombie variants keep me on my toes, but they also inspired me to figure out how I could take advantage of their quirks with quick thinking. Undoubtedly, their inclusion is a big part of why I never felt bored while playing.

Character progression has also been reworked in the sequel. While there are still several different "Slayers" to play as that each have unique abilities, skill trees have been replaced by a system of cards that you'll find in the world or unlock when leveling up. These cards can be swapped around freely, and provide you with everything from passive effects and bonuses to new combat moves like jump kicks and ground pounds. Unlike talents on skill tree branches that have prerequisites, you can mix and match your cards any way you want. This opens up tons of opportunities for interesting builds, and it makes me wish more games had a system like this one.

I don't have much to complain about regarding Dead Island 2's gameplay, but something I did notice is that the zombie spawn behavior can sometimes be a little ridiculous. There were quite a few instances where a new monster would inexplicably spawn or despawn only a few meters away from me, even if I was looking directly at their location. This isn't a huge problem — one or two extra zombies to kill is hardly a challenge — but it did make clearing areas out before looting them frustrating at times.

Some of the environmental puzzles thrown your way are also pretty bland. While I didn't mind having to replace a gate's circuit breaker the first few times, I was ready for something more original when the game was still asking me to do it at the halfway point of the campaign. Thankfully, these puzzles are fairly few and far between.

Notably, Dead Island 2 is more linear than its predecessors, which is a design approach I feel neutral about. There are still side quests and plenty of secrets to find sprinkled throughout the zombie-infested streets of Bel-Air and Beverly Hills and the sands of Venice Beach, and with the onset of open world fatigue in recent years, there's definitely something comforting about a tighter and more structured experience. Even so, explorable areas feel noticeably smaller than those of Dead Island's Banoi, and with the game being as fun as it is, part of me wishes this apocalyptic playground was a bit larger.

Dead Island 2 review: Story, characters, and world

Sam B returns in Dead Island 2, and is one of the story's main characters. (Image credit: Windows Central)

Historically, the Dead Island series has struggled to maintain a consistent tone. While past stories felt pretty somber, it was difficult to take anything seriously thanks to a plethora of goofy character voice lines and the general ridiculousness of sending zombies flying with jump kicks. Dead Island 2 leans hard in the other direction and embraces the camp, and after playing through the story, I'm glad it did.

Tell me if you've heard this one before: you're a survivor of a zombie outbreak that's immune to the disease, and you need to get to a group of scientists that want to use your blood to make a vaccine. It's completely unoriginal, but I don't care — and neither should you if you like to laugh. Ultimately, the plot is just a vehicle that drives you towards biting satire that makes fun of celebrity and influencer culture. "Kick one off the roof!" says a TikTok star trying to record a video of you slaying the undead so she can upload it for views. "You got pizza?" a hungover and washed-up rockstar asks when you knock on his door, completely oblivious to the fact he missed his chance to evacuate. Moments like these, as well as the comments your character makes and the silly notes you'll discover while exploring, will definitely get some chuckles out of you.

Ultimately, the plot is just a vehicle that drives you towards biting satire that makes fun of celebrity and influencer culture.

You'll come across plenty of funny and eccentric characters during your journey through "Hell-A," including Sam B from the first two games, a naïve star actress named Emma Jaunt that he used to be in a relationship with, her clingy assistant Michael, and many others. These survivors do share a tender moment or two here and there, but at the end of the day, you shouldn't expect to be moved by this story. Some will be disappointed with the game's focus on comedy, but after lots of mature zombie dramas, I'm just happy to have something that makes me smile.

Dead Island 2 review: Visuals, graphics, and audio

Dead Island 2 is a fantastic looking game that sports excellent high-quality textures, gorgeous lighting, and lots of vibrant color. By far, though, the most impressive part of its presentation is the F.L.E.S.H. system. In addition to allowing players to gain a gameplay advantage by breaking or hacking off limbs, Dambuster's dynamic dismemberment tech produces the gnarliest and most realistic gore physics I've ever seen. Each thwack and slash will progressively tear through layers of skin, fat, muscle, and sinew, and once you reach bones, you can smash past them to reveal individually destructible organs. It's insanely impressive, and it makes fighting the zombies extremely satisfying.

Dambuster's dynamic dismemberment tech produces the gnarliest and most realistic gore physics I've ever seen.

F.L.E.S.H. is complemented perfectly by the game's stellar audio. As you slice and shatter the body of each monster you come across, sickening crunches and the grisly, wet sound of metal slashing through flesh perfectly sells the weight and power of your strikes. Dead Island 2's tense score is also very fitting for the setting, with many of the campaign's campier high-octane moments accompanied by energetic rock songs.

Dead Island 2 review: Performance and stability

For the most part, Dead Island 2 ran well on my i5-12600K and RTX 3070-powered gaming PC, including on high settings while playing on my 3440x1440 ultrawide monitor. With that said, I did experience a few issues throughout my playthrough. The framerate would sometimes dip significantly for a few seconds after coming out of the pause menu, which did make it temporarily difficult to fight nearby zombies. I also often dropped frames a bit in some particularly zombie-heavy encounters, though this didn't affect my ability to defend myself.

The framerate would sometimes dip significantly for a few seconds after coming out of the pause menu, which did make it temporarily difficult to fight nearby zombies

Note that you should let Dead Island 2 compile its shaders when it boots up. This only takes a few seconds, and by allowing the game to do this, you'll completely avoid stutters caused by on the fly shader compilation.

While the experience on Windows PC has been good aside from the occasional framerate problem, I can't speak to the game's performance on Xbox consoles. Once I've tested that version of the game out, I'll update this section with my findings.

Dead Island 2 review: Final thoughts

Dead Island 2

(Image credit: Windows Central)

While a few gameplay issues and some annoying framerate drops hold Dead Island 2 back from perfection, it's nevertheless an amazing action-horror game. It's got some of the most fun and satisfying melee combat I've ever experienced, supported by creative level design that fosters creative usage of the environment and tons of highly customizable weapons. Its skill card system makes experimenting with new build ideas a breeze, and between the hilarious script and the immaculate presentation, you'll find it hard to carve your way through the apocalypse with anything other than a smile on your face.

Whether you're a longtime Dead Island fan like me or you simply enjoy zombie games, playing Dead Island 2 is a must. It's one of the best PC games of 2023 so far, and I can't recommend it enough.


Dead Island 2

Dead Island 2 is everything a fan of the original game could ask for. Between its brutal melee mechanics, satirical writing, and awesome presentation, it's a must-play for any zombie lover.

See at: Microsoft (Xbox) | Epic Games Store (PC)

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.